According to the CDC the obesity rate of children has more than tripled since the 1970’s and that 1 in 5 kids are obese. Here are my theories as to why and what we can do about it
Excluding any genetic or health disorders, there are a few behavior patterns and habits we can help instill in our kids to lessen the risk of them becoming overweight or obese. Cutting sugar and highly processed, high glycemic carbs and getting more physical play and exercises.
Before we dive into these topics, I think it’s important to acknowledge first that as parents we introduce our children to the world. We are the first to reveal the “workings” of life and the universe, to whatever capacity we understand it. And to help them prioritize certain habits and behaviors. So, when it comes to encouraging our kids to take on healthy habits we’ll have much greater success if we take on the habits ourselves and lead by example.
Cut the Sugar and processed food. Replace with whole foods.
Here is some interesting data to consider:
Overall caloric intake has increased 20% since the 70’s.
Sugar consumption has increased 20-25% since the 1970s and has tripled since the 1950’s.
The average American consumes roughly 355 grams of sugar a day which is almost three times what’s recommended.
Children in the US average around 15-17% of their total daily caloric intake from sugar which is roughly twice the current recommendation.
Consumption of sodas (which has doubled since the late 70’s, as well) as juices and other sugary? is one, if not the biggest culprit. Soda consumption has doubled since the late 70’s.
Eating processed food and fast food is another thing that has increased. We eat roughly 50% of our meals at home opposed to the 75% in the 1950s. According to the CDC over 12% of US kids, ages 2-19, consume over 40% of their daily calories from fast food; 10.7% consume 25-40% and 11.6% consume under 25%.
Research indicates that over 60% of the average American’s diet consists of “ultra processed” foods which has increased tremendously over the past 100 years.
A simple and brief explanation of how the body breaks down carbs and sugar.
Sugar and highly processed carbohydrates are high glycemic. If you’re not familiar with the glycemic index it is a list that ranks foods on a scale of 1 to 100 based on how quickly they breakdown into glucose or sugar in your body. <55 is considered low, 55-69 moderate and >69 high.
Unless you’re “fat adapted” glucose is your primary source of fuel. Glucose is what carbohydrates break down to in the body. When your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose it first uses the glucose where it’s needed. When there is a surplus of glucose the body stores it in the muscles and liver as glycogen. Once these stores are full the body begins to store the glucose as body fat.
Simply put, when you exercise your body reverses this process. First it uses the glucose in the blood, second it taps the glycogen stores in the muscle and then it begins to breakdown the body fat. This “system” is far more complex but this gives you the general idea.
The body needs oxygen to utilize fat. So, when activities are intense, the heart rate is high, and breathing is challenging the body is primarily using sugar, either glucose in the blood or stored glycogen. When at rest or during low intensity activities the body tends to burn more fat but total calories burned is low.
Just because a food is higher glycemic doesn’t necessarily make it bad, especially if it is loaded with micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, healthy phytochemicals like antioxidants). However, if the majority of your diet contains sugar or highly processed carbs that breakdown into glucose really fast and you’re not getting much exercise, like the majority of kids these days, then much of that “sugar” gets stored as fat.
What we can do?
Cut the sugary drinks. Give your kids water. They really don’t need to drink anything else. If you want to give them a treat, give them sparkling water and add a little squeeze of lemon, lime or orange.
If they are involved in a sport or recreational activity lasting over an hour, especially in the hot sun, it may be wise to give them a healthy sports drink like coconut water or water with a little fruit juice or honey added to it. But don’t let this become a staple. When given the choice between water and something sweet what do you think your child will choose?
Here is a recipe for a healthier sports drink alternative. https://wellnessmama.com/2575/natural-sports-drink/
Replace breakfast cereals with whole, cooked grain and vegetable options like oatmeal, cream of rice and wheat, organic starchy veggies like sweet potatoes, squash and carrots. These tend to break down more slowly into sugar in the body and have more micronutrients.
There is research that points to much of our grain, especially oats, containing glyphosate which has been link to cancer. So do your research.
Replace processed snacks, crackers and cookies with crunchy vegetables and fruit. Baby carrots, broccoli and celery are great options. You can add some nut butter to carrots and celery to make them more enticing. Sliced apples, raisins, frozen blueberries and cherries also make great snakes.
If you’re going to do baked goods choose the healthiest option or better yet bake them yourself. Use or look for lower glycemic flour like almond, coconut and/or brown rice. Sweeten with stevia, if you like it. I don’t. You can also use local, organic honey; blackstrap molasses or real maple syrup. Another way to cut sweeteners all together is by using applesauce.
Bear in mind, when you begin to cut sugary and processed foods your taste buds will begin to change and foods will begin to have more flavor.
Make sure your kids are getting adequate, healthy sources of protein.
Protein is the building block of our muscles, hair, nails, and organs. It’s also important for hormonal health and balance and helps you to feel satiated, curbing carb cravings.
It’s recommended that children get between .45 to .55 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. To give you perspective eggs, meat, pork and poultry contain roughly 7 grams per ounce.
Here is a quick breakdown: Egg = 7 grams
Small Chicken breast (4oz) = 28 grams
Tenderloin Steak (6oz) = 42 grams
Can of tuna (6oz) = 42 grams
A simple approach is to serve your kids a quality protein source, roughly the size of their hand, three meals a day.
Cut the fast food and eat at home.
This often involves planning and prepping. Keep it simple, planning one meal at a time.
I make it fairly consistent, varying it up a little week to week.
Here is what I do for my daughter and me:
Breakfast is usually an egg omelette or scrambled with chopped up veggies. Sometimes I’ll add a little cheese as it can help entice the little ones to eat the eggs. Chopped up olives are a healthier alternative that works for my daughter and me. We’ll also do a little steel cut oatmeal that I prep every three to four days. I’ll cook up a large batch adding cinnamon, vanilla and a little blackstrap molasses.
Our lunches I often prep on Sundays and Wednesdays. Typically I’ll bake a half dozen chicken breast while steaming sweet potatoes and broccoli. When it’s lunchtime I saute these with a little olive or avocado oil. Sometimes I’ll vary it up, subbing lentils and/or beans for the sweet potatoes and sauteed spinach or kale for the broccoli. For me the big thing is to keeping it simple. Prep your food so it can be reheated in one pan.
When we’re rushed I will sometimes do a sandwich with her. On those occasions I use the best bread I can find, usually Dave’s Killer Bread. Nitrate free, organic chicken breast, cheese and fresh spinach. I’ll pair that with some sliced up apple.
My wife handles my daughter’s dinner as I see clients in the afternoons and evenings. She uses a similar approach. We’ll either prep a protein source in advance or use one that is fairly simple to prep; ground turkey, organic beef or bison and pair it with a vegetable and possibly a starch like sweet potatoes or a whole grain like brown rice or quinoa.
I either prep enough lunch for dinner or I use a simple protein source like sardines which I saute with some veggies and possibly lentils.
I hope this is helpful. Next post we’ll dig into how children have become less active and less athletic and what we can do about that.
how much packaged and processed foods do Americans consume?